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Avoid rookie mistakes on Twitter

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Posted: Friday, June 26, 2009 2:24 pm | Updated: 12:53 am, Sat Oct 8, 2011.

Data Doctors: Q. I finally signed up for a Twitter account and am very uncertain about how all of this works. What are the things that a new user should know? - Sharon

A. Twitter is getting more attention than some of the biggest stories of the year: the Hudson River plane crash and the election turmoil in Iran to name a few. But it's important that you understand what Twitter is and isn't.

Tribune news comes in many formats

Q. I finally signed up for a Twitter account and am very uncertain about how all of this works. What are the things that a new user should know? - Sharon

A. Twitter is getting more attention than some of the biggest stories of the year: the Hudson River plane crash and the election turmoil in Iran to name a few. But it's important that you understand what Twitter is and isn't.

Twitter enhances communication

Tribune news comes in many formats

Data Doctor: Social networking can be a great business tool

The first mistake most new users make is trying to compare it to an existing communication system. It's not like e-mail, it's not like text messaging and even though it's referred to as a microblog, it isn't really like blogging.

Twitter is another way to communicate with others, either one-to-one or one-to-many. Most speculate that Twitter has caught on because it forces users to articulate their thoughts in 140 characters or less, And because we all have attention-deficit disorder on the Internet, it's the easiest way to interact with a large group of people.

The numbers are growing quickly and the demographic profiles may surprise you. According to Compete.com, the number of unique visitors to Twitter.com in December 2008 was just over 4 million, and less than six months later the number is at just under 20 million.

Many assume that Twitter is for the younger, more Internet-concentric set. But according to a recent Pew study, the median age of Twitter users skews older than both Facebook and MySpace. Another study suggests that 21 percent of Twitter users are over the age of 50 compared to just 8 percent for Facebook and MySpace.

I have an unscientific explanation for why the median age of Twitter users is much higher than Facebook or MySpace: Have you ever met a teen or twenty-something who understands the value of networking or could articulate a thought in 140 characters or less? Me neither!

I knew Twitter was different when my two teenagers who grew up on social media both shrugged their shoulders and said what many youngsters have said: "I don't get it."

Because it's a completely different approach to communicating, my first bit of advice is just start "listening" to the conversations of people you are following. It won't take long for you to get a feel for the communication protocols.

Here are some common mistakes made by people new to Twitter:

No profile picture. This is a social media that connects people. Seeing a human face makes a huge difference in how the rest of the community perceives you. Most won't follow/engage with users who haven't taken the time to put a face on their profile.

No bio info. If you don't fill out the bio that explains who you are and what your interests are, it's kind of hard to get folks engaged with you. Twitter connects people with common interests and backgrounds; make sure you make yours known.

No links in tweets. Whenever possible include a link to more info about what you are tweeting about. How valuable would Google be if it brought up brief descriptions of info you sought but no links to learn more? Your dispatches with links will be viewed as much more valuable by those following you. And shorten the links by using services like http://bit.ly.

Not validating others. Twitter is not a me community, it's an us community. Don't always "tweet" about yourself, as that often comes across as a monologue. Twitter is a dialog, so you need to let others know that you agree, disagree or appreciate the information they have posted. The best way to validate others in Twitter is to "retweet" what they have posted with your two cents added.

Long conversations between two users. Don't alienate your followers by having long one-on-one conversations with a single user. If it isn't really for the rest of the followers, learn how to use the DM (direct message) section of Twitter.

No third-party applications. The Twitter Web site has limited capabilities for managing your account, but programs like Tweetdeck (tweetdeck.com) are indispensable for novices and veterans alike. If you have a smart-phone, check around for free Twitter applications that will give you the freedom to tweet (with pictures even) from your phone.

Many who read this may think "I don't want to share that much about myself." If you aren't social by nature, then social media may not be for you.

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Ken Colburn is president of Data Doctors Computer Services and host of the "Computer Corner" radio show, which can be heard at noon Saturdays on KTAR (92.3 FM) and at www.datadoctors.com/radio. Readers may send questions to evtrib@datadoctors.com.

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